Being True to Myself the Artistic Way

For as long as I can remember I always felt compelled to unleash my talents to the world.

My Grandmother nurtured my artistic talents by being both my adviser and biggest fan. She would collect fashion magazines and teach me how to braid my hair. She and I were so close that I didn’t even mind sharing my room with her. She would help me hone my artistic instincts by listening to classical music every night. Sadly, she has long since passed away; I can still perceive her presence when searching my mind for artistic and personal inspiration.

The most important lesson she taught me was to express my true self, even when discouraged by critical opinion. “Always be yourself, Stefi” she would say to me.

I always fell back on her advice when my hands were sweating, and my heart was beating like thunder in anticipation.

I was in 4th grade, wearing red, bright tights with a matching leotard, I dressed as a flower reciting a poem about a blossoming flower. The flower was sad because it was the last day of school and she wouldn’t be able to see her students anymore.If you have seen Blind Melon’s “No Rain” video, then you’ll have some idea how it felt being the chubby bumblebee girl in the video that only wanted to dance. When hearing the oooh’s and aww’s from other parents, my classmates were doubled over in laughter.

In spite of their childish ridicule, my grandmother’s inspiring words reverberated throughout my soul. With her words of encouragement, I didn’t care about my friends laughing at me; the world was mine, and I was a blossoming flower replete with artistic inspiration.

That memory stayed with me for a long time.

You can say I tried everything I could to let everyone know I was a born true artist. In a way, I wanted to find a purpose that could keep me alive. I hated the way I looked; I never felt beautiful. I wanted to compensate my shortcomings both mentally, and physically; with art.

While my friends talked about Mortal Kombat games, I would spend hours reading and staring at Salvador Dalí’s paintings. When I finally graduated from high school, I joined the music conservatory in Honduras with the hope of becoming the next Latin Yo-Yo MA. At my mother’s urging, I attended college to become a lawyer. But my natural instinct pushed me to enroll in drawing class.

I can’t even begin to describe my anxiety; I felt incapable of drawing a simple still life or even a landscape! With that, I decided to skip drawing and concentrate solely on music. For reasons I can no longer enumerate, I picked Saxophone as my instrument of choice. Can you think of anything sexier than a woman playing saxophone? Neither can I.

Unfortunately, my bohemian lifestyle as a musician was cut short once I was uprooted and transplanted to the United States. My artistic aspirations were superseded by the necessity of having to learn English and adapt to an entirely new cultural setting.

I relied on sign language in order to alert the family I used to live with, that I was hungry or needed new books; I decided writing would be my new primary mode of artistic expression.

I was only seventeen in an alien environment without the slightest intimation of how I could take care of myself and my frightened little sister. I wanted to live art, breathe art, and create art.

I was green with envy of any artist who seemed to have the time and innate facility of artistic expression. I was quickly frustrated with writing for want of proper instruction of how to string together a coherent sentence in English while straining to ease my transition into a new and unfamiliar environment.

After a year of basically bouncing from job to job from one new location to another, I finally settled in suburban Washington, DC. I couldn’t paint a flawless portrait or compose an inscrutable symphony, but I realized could take good photographs. It became important to me to understand the beauty of black and white pictures. Equipped with only a generic digital camera, I strived to push the envelope of its functionality to capture the spirit of old school techniques.

I wanted everything without accepting the responsibility or discipline that it takes to become an artist. It’s not that I lacked the ability to express myself; it was that I didn’t want to sacrifice my time for it.

Soon, I dropped out of college and became a mom. My new audience consisted of my two babies who watched their mom dancing around the house in the mannerist style of Nureyev’s “Black Swan pas de deux.”I even danced at church. I felt happy dancing in similarly cute outfits to those I wore when I was in school. My dance career was, unfortunately, cut short when the idyllic atmosphere of the church environment was suddenly cut short by a traumatic series of incidents.

I could tell you the many bad things that happened to me: sexually abused at seven, enduring years of domestic violence, alcoholism, drugs and abuse my father heaped on my mother, sisters and me. I could write about my self-harm behavior, my struggle with mental illness, etc.

But you see, to be real, you have to pursue your calling regardless of all the darkness and discouragement that seems to envelop you.

It took me a long time to realize all those artistic attempts were my message to the world, even if I felt broken inside, I wanted to create beautiful things and have adventures.

I still take photographs and create graphics. My saxophone lies dusty in a corner waiting for its owner to have the guts to play again. But I’m still here loving my quirkiness because I know nothing is more secure and certain than my life when I know the truth.

This is what makes me real.

Photo: © Stephanie Ortez All Rights Reserved

Stephanie Ortez

Stephanie is a highly caffeinated mother of two wonderful boys. She is hopelessly addicted to non-fiction books and literature that moves her to tears. She is an admissions advisor for George Washington University online where she assists homeschooled students internationally. Stephanie lives with Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. She is a passionate mental health advocate, member of Stigma Fighters. Her writing has been featured on The Elephant Journal, The Mighty, The Organic Coffee Haphazardly and Feminine Collective.

  1. Susan P. Blevins

    I loved this Stephanie. And your story just proves that what doesn’t break us makes us. Only the artistic, creative soul can find meaning in the adversities of life. I resonated with your story so much because I experienced so many of your soul promptings. Not the abuse, fortunately, but lack of comprehension as to who I was. Growing up was a constant battle, that without creative expression would have killed me. But how our creativity was fed by our adversity! Thank you for sharing this personal experience.

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